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Dead body found stuck to Texas Gov. Abbott’s border buoys in the Rio Grande

Texas Department of Public Safety troopers ride past buoys while patrolling the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass on July 29, 2023.
Adrees Latif
Texas Department of Public Safety troopers ride past buoys while patrolling the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass on July 29, 2023.

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A dead body was found caught in Texas’ floating buoy barrier in the Rio Grande on Wednesday.

It was the first of two bodies found in the water boundary between the United States and Mexico. The second was found three miles upstream from the border buoys in Eagle Pass. Mexican officials identified one of them as a child from Honduras.

The U.S. and Mexican governments have been warning of dire consequences since Texas placed the thousand foot string of buoys in the water to deter migrants from crossing in Eagle Pass, a hot spot for illegal crossings.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador condemned the deaths at his daily news conference Thursday. "This is inhumane and no person should be treated like this," he said.

This section of the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass is already one of the most dangerous areas to cross due to changing currents, and the buoys and razor wire Texas has installed along the river have only made it more dangerous.

It's the latest escalation in Gov. Greg Abbott's Operation Lone Star, a controversial $4 billion border security program that has tested the limits of a state's ability to enforce immigration laws.

The riverside city, sometimes referred to as 'La Puerta de Mexico' or 'Mexico’s Door,' 'is at the center of a struggle between the State of Texas and the federal government over shutting that door to illegal immigration.

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw claimed the barrier wasn't to blame for the deaths. He said that “preliminary information suggests this individual drowned upstream from the marine barrier and floated into the buoys.”

A spokesperson for Abbott took issue with López Obrador's comments.

”The Mexican government is flat-out wrong,” Abbott spokesman Andrew Mahaleris responded in a statement. “Unfortunately, drownings in the Rio Grande by people attempting to cross illegally are all too common.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security spokesperson called the deaths "heartbreaking" and said they should be investigated.

"It is critical that we manage our border in a safe and humane way that respects the dignity of every human being and keeps our communities safe," said DHS Spokesman Erin Heeter in a statement. "We can both enforce our laws and treat human beings with dignity."

Democratic lawmakers and humanitarian rights groups have previously called buoys and installation of razor wire "barbaric."

The U.S. Justice Department sued the state of Texas last month over Abbott'srefusalto remove the barrier, which stretches the length of three football fields.

In affidavits released as part of the filing, Mexican officials expressed concerns that the buoys could lead to a loss of life and provoke an international incident. They also said the barrier has already caused significant harm in diplomatic foreign relations between the two countries.

"We reiterate the position of the Mexican government that the placement of the buoys from Texas authorities is a violation of our sovereignty," Mexico's foreign affairs secretary said in a press release in Spanish. "We express our concerns that these policies will have over the impact on human rights and the safety of migrants."

The Justice Department is asking for an injunction to require Texas to remove the buoys within 10 days and to block Abbott from installing any more river barriers without prior approval from the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Texas Newsroom's Sergio Martínez-Beltrán contributed to this report.

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